Om Namah Shivaya


Sunday, November 28, 2010

As I near the end of this journey...

I would like to leave some suggestions, reflections, and possibly some lessons learned as well. I also want to take a moment and thank the Universe and the wonderful folks at the KU Cancer Center for the shortness of this journey. I realize, *believe me, I know* how lucky I am. I found the lump at the end of February, was officially diagnosed May 14th, started chemo June 5th, ended it September 17th (with very minimal complaints), had the mastectomy and was officially Cancer Free! on October 15th (and truthfully the mastectomy/reconstruction has not been as traumatic as I thought it would be). Roughly 5 months from hearing the words "You have Breast Cancer" to hearing the words "You're Cancer Free"...incredible.

I don't know how you feel, but I think that I had a very unique approach to this whole stupid mess. I feel like I looked it in the face (after the first initial shock and awe of it all) and said "Well damn. That's one way to go about it". Then proceeded to live my life in the best way that I could while dealing with the new reality that was forced upon me.

I would like to suggest that you laugh...a LOT...when you're going through something like this. Look at the absurdity of it all and just, *laugh*. You'll find that that simple action leads you down a path towards sources of strength that you didn't know you had. Even when I was at my lowest (Chemo's 4 & 6) I still found myself laughing at myself and the absurdity of what I was having to go through. That made it easier for me to say "Huh-uh Universe! You're messin' with the wrong chick" and move on.

When your hair starts falling out have a hair shaving party. Bring together everyone you hold most dear and have them help you through the letting go of that part of yourself.

Then...after you get comfortable with the fact that you're bald, and the fact that it's falling out more each day, go out into the world without a scarf on your head. Be Brave! Be Bold! Be the confident and beautiful woman you were before you lost your hair because guess what...YOU STILL ARE! Just because you got cancer...just because *I* got cancer, that didn't stop me from being who I was and that me didn't have a scarf on her head.

Don't get me wrong. There were plenty of moments that were really uncomfortable for me after we shaved it all off. The first time out in that scarf...that was weird. I felt like everyone was staring at me and passing judgement. Were they? Probably not. If they even did notice me they probably had a passing thought as to "Chick with a scarf on her head" and no more. Yet it was weird. Then it was weird when I embraced the fact that I *was* bald and stopped wearing the scarves, and now it's weird that I'm looking at myself *with* hair, and not only that but it's getting longer with each passing day!

Get a port-a-cath implanted in your chest. You'll be glad you did. I was. A "port" is so they don't have to stick you in your arms every.single.time you come in for appointment; and believe me there are going to be LOT of appointments where blood is going to have to be drawn, and as soon as you can have one placed the better. Be aware that in the very very beginning you're going to have to "grin and bear it" and endure the numerous skin pricks for blood draws, and huge pokes for IV starts.

Stay on top of your meds like your doctor's tell you too. I never missed a dose and I liberally used the nausea medications as prescribed and thankfully besides chemo's 4 & 6 the nausea was just a dull throb under it all.

Be ready for changes to your taste. For me it was "raw pukey throat" and "sandpaper mouth". No fun, but I got through it. Have lots of soups on hand, applesauce, ginger ale, crackers and butter. That was pretty much what I lived on during chemo and even then some days I couldn't muster the desire to eat at all, but I would.

In terms of how Chemo will affect you, truth be told every single person is different. For me the immediate after effects of Chemo was the nausea, fatigue, bone pain, raw pukey throat and sandpaper mouth which lasted one week. It wasn't until about the last 2 chemo's that my energy level totally dropped, I had to do 6 cycles, and now a little over 2 months out I'm starting to get it back gradually day by day.

Staying fit. It's really important to try to maintain your normal life as much as possible and this includes exercise. I
maintained my normal workout routine until about the beginning of September and then when the energy level bottomed out so did my exercise. It's bugged me to no ends that I haven't been able to keep myself maintained, healthy, and fit, but I also understand that it's just for a little while and that what has been most important is for me to just *rest*. Now that my energy level is rising again and the pain from the mastectomy surgery is minimal I'm getting back into a routine and it feels *oh* so sweet. It's going to be fun transforming myself again over the next couple of months. New boobs HAVE to have a nice bod so back to the healthy life I go! :)

Learn to say "I just can't do that right now, I need to rest." Or in simpler terms, learn to say NO and also learn to let go and "let God". Whatever deity that you may believe in, let them take over for awhile. Let others do for you what you can't and shouldn't do for yourself. Admit your fatigue and let others move the heavy stuff, do the laundry, feed the dogs, change the sheets, clean the house. Focus on yourself and making it from the time you wake up in the morning till the time you get to go to bed at night.

When your energy bottoms out, pare your responsibilities down the bare minimum. This goes hand in hand with taking care of yourself and resting. If that means you have to take a 3 hour nap when you get home from work instead of playing with the dogs/cleaning the house/working out/playing with the kids/running errands/or one of the other billion things that needs to be done....if it means you have to let someone else do those things so YOU can take a nap; Do It. You'll thank yourself later.

I'm just going to touch briefly and lightly on this one because it's a personal and private subject but it is also something that was not mentioned to me so I feel like women in particular need to be aware...when your libido bottoms out, just remember it's all part of the greater scheme of getting you back to *you*. There are other ways to be intimate and just like your energy level, it too will return.

Back to medicines. Take the B-6 vitamin religiously during Chemo. It really helps with the tingling in the fingers. That
was a pain when it would happen because I did forget occasionally. "Chemo-fingers" are no fun.

Go slow getting back into life those couple of days you start to feel better after a treatment. For me it was exactly one week that I would feel icky then I'd wake up that Saturday morning and actually feel normal...but...if I went too fast that weekend I'd end up paying for it Monday. It was better to just enjoy a relaxing weekend while slowly getting back to eating normally/living normally, etc.

Establish your new sense of "normal" and hold onto it for dear life. Just like laughing at the absurdity of it all, you have to establish a new normal because the old one is gone and the sooner you realize that the better.

Talk about it. Blog about it. Journal about, whatever, just get it out. Get it out of your mind and off your chest. Don't hold in how you feel during the process, let go of it. I believe that's one of the reasons mine was such a short journey. I didn't allow it to fester inside of me, I got it out there for the whole world too see. Ha!

If you have to have a mastectomy go for both. Get a new set of girls and let insurance foot the bill! *laugh* Seriously though, if you do have to have a mastectomy, they're just boobs. They don't define who you are. Sure they're a part of you but YOU are more important than THEM.

If you opt for reconstruction (aka "Getting new boobs") know that the "expanding" stage is a bitch at first. There's no other way to say it. DEFINITELY take the pain meds prescribed and in the beginning you may need an entire day to recover after getting expanded. This last one I had (Tuesday before Thanksgiving) wasn't bad at all. As of now I have minimal pain and have even done a couple butt-kicking workouts with minimal chest/arm pain so that's good.

If you have drains after your surgery, go to Second Nature in Overland Park and get a couple of the post-mastectomy camisoles. You can get a prescription for them which cover's half. The two ladies that run it are absolutely wonderful and the camisoles were *extremely* handy with those drain bulbs.

When showering w/the drains have saran wrap, a couple clothes pins, and a lanyard. Have someone wrap you around your chest & drain sites in the saran wrap. Put the lanyard on and pin the drain tubes to it with the clothes pins. This makes taking a shower so much easier. Enjoy!

When you're released back to exercise post-surgery take it slow; "Let pain be your guide".

Know that you can and will beat it. It might make life inconvenient for a while and it might suck at times but it's worth it in the end. I hope that I've helped someone out there or at least touched a soul. If you've read this far I thank you for following me on this journey. We're still not done, but we're rapidly coming to a close. As I am evolving into the new me, so this blog will evolve along with me. The title may change, the colors might change, I don't know, we'll just have to see as we go along. The only thing I *do* know is that it will always be me. As the web address for this blog states, this truly has been stouts.spontaneous.evolution and I can't wait to see where I go from here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A very special thank you to Ingels Elementary,

staff, students, Ms. Smith, the PTA, everyone over there. I am beyond blessed to have had the opportunity to work in your school for the past 8 and a half years and what you did for me is beyond expression. You truly showed me how wonderful the human soul can be when you presented me with that gift. Without any questions you wanted to help, and you did. Thank you SO much for all of that wonderful love wrapped up in that envelope. I truly hope that each and every one of you have a glorious Thanksgiving as well as a wonderful holiday season.

Much love

Monday, November 22, 2010

Can I get an "Amen!"

Oh yes you may! "AMEN! my sistah's and brotha's...Thanksgiving break is almost here! Hallelujah!!"

Oh...excuse a little excited there for a moment; but then again, why *not* get excited?! I know that all of you out there in the world who don't teach, may not understand the level of euphoria all of us teachers are rising towards. Five days *off!*. Sure, only three of them are from school and many of them might just be spent traveling in the car, but...Five.Days.Off. Count 'em...onetwothreefourfive. Five!

Hahaha!!! I get giddy with relief just thinking about it. I've been trying *so* hard to keep everything I've been going through from affecting work. I feel I've done a fairly good job of it...I also did a *really* good job of "letting go" let's not forget that...but damn if I'm not exhausted. I mean...Whew! Stick a fork in me and call me done-zo. And now there are five days stretching out ahead of me. An eternity of time to schedule, arrange, laze about, exercise, paint my toes (yes I did just type that), be with the hubby, be with family, be with friends & stay up late and actually PARTY! Sleep in late (and I don't mean 730), get back to yoga, catch up on things to be done, work on cookies and Christmas cards, watch "A Christmas Story" at least 3 times while decorating the house...ya know, just be ME.

*sigh* one more more day...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Today the jiggle begins to disappear...

and all I really have to say is Hallelujah!

The fact that I was officially released by my doctor's to return to a normal exercise routine is beyond thrilling. Of course "let pain be your guide" is going to be the mantra for a while, but damn it felt good to do that 20minutes of yoga this morning. I've definitely lost a lot of flexibility and I can't quite stretch my arms up all the way but that's okay because soon, very soon, I will be able to and then there'll be NO stopping me!

This also means that we're getting much much closer to the end. Only two more fill appointments and then we talk surgery! I can't wait to get these weird tissue expanders swapped out for real implants and get through that final healing. Oh what joyous day that is going to be. My hair's coming back with a bang, my strength and energy level are raising slowly day by day, and the pain is slowly subsiding. Chemo seems like a distant dream, and even the mastectomy surgery and subsequent surgery seem far in the past. I'm truly on the mend and getting back to my regular life. How awesome is that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Loss of control...

Raise your hand if you're a control freak like me *raises hand*. I always knew that I'm the type of person who likes having my life go a certain way...who doesn't? Things have their place, your day has a schedule, a routine to it, and even the evenings follow a similar pattern night after night. I knew that when the diagnosis of "Breast Cancer" came down that things were going to have to find a new pattern...a new routine. Fine. I'm okay with that. We were able to find a new routine, a new pattern...albeit it's not the one *I* would have chosen, but it's worked fine so far. What I'm *not* okay with is days like this that keep me from school and from my kids...random unscheduled days where you wake up going "Good *Lord* what is that pain? Where is it coming from? What's happening?!" and instead of being able to get up and get moving and get to school to do my job, I have to instead sit here at home with ice on and off and back on the valium...what a way to start your work week huh? Sheesh-a-me.

The sensation of losing control over what it is you have planned for the day (as in I was supposed to finish up the 8th grade playing test today and introduce some new concepts to my 5th graders and get my percussion kids running on the holiday music) can be so incredibly frustrating because then you have to come up with a NEW plan on-top of the one you already had in place. *sigh* It's just so stupid. It's all just so friggin' stupid. I can't wait for it to be all over. ALL of it...not just the next phase...ALL of it.

I just keep saying "January...January...January..." to myself. By then this should all be over and I should be able to get back into my *old* routine of living life just like I need to to accomplish that which I hope to accomplish. To take care of my hubby the way he deserves, to play with the doggies each day again, to not miss a day of school again because of *cancer*, and to start taking care of myself again in the way that I *so* much need and deserve. In the mean time I'll just keep trying to catch that run-away train that I've been running after since I returned from surgery and just keep doing the best that I can. I guess that's really all I can do.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thank you GC management, staff, regulars, and patrons!

Today is the day folks. Granite City Food and Brewery located at I-29 and Barry Road in the Zona Rosa shopping center is putting on a fundraiser for Tim and I. 20% of your final bill (*if* you choose to participate) will be donated to us. All you have to do is come on in, tell your server/bartender you want to participate, then eat and drink! The Brunch is awesome, Bloody Mary's and Mimosa's are on special (can you say all you can drink mimosa's for $8?!?!) and the staff rocks. You can ONLY get Brunch from 10-11, but it runs until 2. There's a stadium menu for when the games start (around 1...the pretzels are wicked good and you can't beat 1/2 price pizzas!), and of course the fine hand-crafted BEER is to die for!

I began working for GC the day they opened, what it's been almost six years now?! Wow. Crazy. I've been in the restaurant industry since I was 18 (thank you Pancho's for giving me the chance and Free State Brewery for refining my skills), and have loved (okay okay it definitely is a love/hate relationship) every minute of it. It was my third year of teaching when I took a friend to the airport and passed by the Zona shopping center where numerous new restaurants were being built and noticed a big banner for Granite City Food and Brewery. My first thought was: "Huh, a Brewery...I've done that before...could be fun". Then on my way back from the airport I thought "Ya know. Tim's in a tree every weekend until it snows and Christmas is right around the corner...why not get a second job here and earn $$ for Christmas gifts?!" Within a half an hour I had a job as a server (Thanks Bob! Still miss your face!!) and then the realization hit that not only was I *back* in the restaurant industry but that I was also now a two job person...something I'd never done before.

So thus began my relationship as being the "weekend warrior", as I was dubbed by some of the early management staff, with Granite City. Then when the opportunity came about for me to become the weekend day bartender I grabbed at it because that had always been my ultimate goal in the restaurant bartend.

I enjoyed about 3 1/2 or 4 years of it I think...time flew by so quickly I don't remember how much time I spent behind the bar. Maybe it was the fun of the job, but mostly probably the fact I was working 7 days a week...ha! Anyways, I loved working there, loved all the managers that came through that place (Kurt,RJ, Julie, Gabe, Mike, Mike, and Mike ha!, Chad, J, Carlos, Jeff (MISS YOU JEFF!), and all the others), loved who I worked with (HI Dana!, Rachel, Hupp, Joe, Charlie, among many others), and yes even loved the gritchy kitchen staff (Hi Jared, Yewell, Jr., Bob and the rest!)...oh my goodness and how in the *world* can I forget about Wilson?!?!?! HI WILSON!!!

To my regulars (forgive me if I miss a name or two)...Teddy (what are we fighting today?), Pete (NLight or Wheat today?) Ted (Ice Tea with two pinks?), Jason (Raspberry tea with lots of lemons on the side), Ron (always a Bennie), Loretta (glass of red wine?), the Platte Co. Martini drinkin' girls, BEN (Yo Doctor!), Pat (IPA for you sir?), the Hebert's (raspberry NLight?), David and Angela (Shiraz and a 2Pull w/a pizza today?) Jada and her crew, Mayor, Gov and the many more that I can't think of right now but I appreciate you all and miss seeing all your faces each weekend.

All of these people have seen me through many years of my life and listened to my trials and tribulations behind the bar. They each hold a special place in my heart and dearly miss seeing them all each and every weekend. Thank you to all of you (from staff to regulars) making my years at Granite City behind the bar such a fun time and a fulfilling time in my life; and one last time, thank you thank you THANK YOU for everyone who comes out to participate today and helps donate to Tim and I. We can't thank you enough, we're humbled beyond words, and we look forward to being able to pay it forward someday. I only wish that I could be behind the bar doing what I do.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

5 months

Tissue expanders are just no fun; but that's okay because it's just one night of pain and one day a week that I have to recoup which makes each week one week closer to this all being over. "You hear that Universe?!?! O.V.E.R. Over!" I'm not going to allow you to touch me with cancer again, whatever form it be. I also pray that you do not ever touch anyone I love with cancer...ever.

I realized the other day that it was almost five months that I went from being told that I had breast cancer to being cancer free! I *told* you the universe didn't know who it was messin' with!!! Those cancer kickin' shoes worked! Ha!

What a journey this has been. I've gone from finding a lump and thinking it was nothing, to being told "it's probably nothing", then being told "You have Breast Cancer". The emotional roller-coaster days of "information overload", the scariness of the first chemo, then the fatigue and nausea of chemo. Chemo's 4 & 6 were doozies. The hair loss...*oh* the hair loss; yeah...that sucked. Finally to the loss of both of my breasts which have been replaced, for now, with tissue expanders that look and feel *oh* so weird, not to mention pretty *bleepin* painful .

I've lost the sense of myself and the sense of my beauty *but* I have found sources of strength that I didn't know I had, and yet also a different sense of beauty. I've had to give in and only go 50% in everything I do when all I wanna do is give 100 or more to everyone around me, including my kids. Yet I know this journey is coming to a close. I still have quite a ways to go till I'm back to my normal life, not that it will ever be the after this, but at least I can live my life as I used to. Do the things I used to do on a daily basis. Ya know, just be *me*.

I can't wait for that day.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

check hair's coming back!

First week back....almost made it the whole way...

Monday was so awesome...I came walking into Ruskin (THANK YOU Mr. Ryerson for making the front parking lot more accessible to traveling teachers because the thought of having to deal with that heavy gate on the back parking lot right now is more than I could have handled). So anyways, I come walking into Ruskin and the reaction I got from my fellow co-workers you would have thought I was on a "shock and awe" campaign. It was lovely being welcomed back by the staff as I made my way to the band room. That's when the real celebration began. The kids came running at me from all directions "MISS STOUT!!! MISS STOUT!!!" "YOU'RE BACK! YOU'RE BACK!" "Oh my God I'm so glad to see you!!!" You should have seen me as they came running towards me, I had a huge smile on my face but my hands up saying "Easy...easy...easy!!" There's nothing better, as a teacher, than being swept up into a bear hug by one of your students and spun around because they're so happy to see you. I think I made everyone late to class that morning cause they were all coming out into the hall to welcome me back. :) Very nice.

On Tuesday I was so exhausted I had at least 5 people tell me that I needed to go home. Ha! You know it's true when people you work with (including administrators) tell you to go home. SO, knowing that I was getting filled Tuesday evening (up to 150cc on each side thank you very much) and knowing how badly that hurt the last time, I decided to take Wednesday off. What a good idea. Oy that filling up of the expanders hurts like a son of a b!tch. I remember them telling me that the filling up of the exanders would make my back hurt but I really didn't put it all together until last Tuesday evening. MAN did my back hurt that night. Whoo! Damn experience made me cry, which just wigged Tim out, so I had to get it under control...thank goodness for pain pills. Sheesh!

What I figured out, for those of you who are wondering, is that it makes total sense for your back to hurt after getting expanded. See, they put the tissue expanders *under* the chest muscle so then when they fill you up each week not only is the tissue getting expanded BUT it's also expanding muscle and pulling on that band of muscle that wraps around your whole chest area. Holy Moly, it's quite the experience. I'll be taking next Wednesday off because they scheduled me for Tuesday afternoon again, but I'm going to try to get them to schedule it from now on on Friday's so I can recover over the weekends instead of having to take a day of from school each week for however long this is going to take.

Thursday I returned with a bang and made it through the day with style, then returned that evening for our 8th/9th grade Choir and Orchestra concert. Since I was not doing any conducting (can't wave my arms like that just yet) I got to be the MC, and that was way fun. Ms. Davis (our principal) welcomed everyone to the concert then turned the mic over to me where I welcomed everyone as well and then talked a little bit about me telling the crowd that if they hadn't gotten the memo the first time I've been battling breast cancer since May, and that as of October 15th I am cancer free...thunderous applause followed and I had to work very hard to *not* tear up. The concert went just as well as could be expected and I was worn out by the end.

Friday came and went in a blur (thank god for Friday's and NO heels!) where I ended my week with having a wine afternoon with my friend and colleague Donna. Love having wine with Donna and of course the coffee that comes after :)

SO glad it's the weekend, though. Gonna get outta this place for the day and head to Lawrence to see the fam. Sent thank you notes out earlier in the week and wrote a special note to my nephew Thomas which apparently upset him because he's been so concerned about me. What a cutie! He was so cute in the hospital, *such* a look of concern on his face. So I'm going to head to Lawrence while Tim continues to work on the floor and deer hunt. :)